Ashley H. Morgenthal is a 2015 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee

Kathi Borden, PhD, Committee Chair
Gina Pasquale, PsyD, Committee Member
William Slammon, PhD, Committee Member


child centered play therapy, autism, case study, symbolic, play, communication, language

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Publication Date



This dissertation evaluated archival data from the implementation of a child-centered approach to play therapy with a young girl diagnosed with autism. Goals of treatment included promoting spontaneous symbolic play and increasing verbal communication skills. Young children with autism who engage in early intervention often receive behavioral interventions, such as applied behavior analysis (ABA), on a regular basis. However, the use of child-centered play therapy as an intervention is not as common, as play is frequently viewed as being a deficiency for children with autism. In psychological theory, play is often regarded as a child’s work, and his or her primary mode of communication. Play, of any type, is vital for the healthy development of all children. Through a review of the literature, the importance of play interventions for children with autism is argued. Next, the use of child-centered play therapy with the goal of enhancing both spontaneous symbolic play and functional language for children with autism is examined. Methods for how the intervention was implemented and evaluated will be described. The results of the coded sessions are reviewed and explored. Results are then discussed through a traditional narrative case study method, highlighted by examples that occurred during therapy sessions. Information from an interview with the parents is narrated to illustrate their perspective on the implementation of the intervention, as well as their own experiences with the diagnosis. Limitations and challenges to the research are explored, followed by recommendations for future research. Finally, who should receive this type of intervention as well as when CCPT should be considered is discussed.


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